Trip to Australia: 1964

It was 1964 when our family embarked on a journey that would take us twelve thousand miles from our native England to the southern continent known as Australia.
We left Southampton in June to a tune played over the loud speaker that brought a tear to all those looking from the side of the emigrant ship. She slipped her moorings, allowing the tugs to edged the vessel out into the busy shipping lanes of the English Channel. It was a time when many ships such as the “Castle Felicia” ferried people to the other side of the world.
It was a big decision on the part of my parents to take my sister and I out of school and immigrate to a new country. Part of the reason was brought about by a particularly atrocious winter, leaving my dad who was a builder, without work. My parents started making inquiries at the Canadian, New Zealand and Australian emigration offices. It was the Australian government that eventually granted permission for the Ewington family to take up residence in Australia.
Our course was set for the stormy waters of the Bay of Biscay. We didn’t see much of the coast of Spain because the weather was so rough. When the ship past under the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar and into the calm waters of the Mediterranean, the weather improved.
Our first stop was Port Said, the northern gateway to the Suez Canal, where we moored for a day. The following morning, a slow journey began between the continents of Africa and the Middle East.
At the southern end of the Suez Canal, we were able to disembark for the first time and place our “sea legs” on hot but solid soil of the Port of Aden. Peaceful at the time but this part of the world would soon explode in racial and religious unrest. The sound of bitter fighting would echo across the regions harsh landscape.
A full day was spent sight seeing, including a visit to a city built within the walls of an extinct volcano. The town was fittingly known as Crater City. The family hired a taxi and the driver took us to a camel market and oasis. It was late afternoon when we eventually returned to the white ship, which had become our home for the duration of the six-week journey to Australia.
The next part of our journey was across the Indian Ocean. Four weeks without seeing any ships nor land. I remember wondering the upper deck, one moon light night. Without warning I was “king hit” from behind by some older kids. By time I had recovered, I was alone on deck. I never did find out who actually attacked me.
It was in the Indian Ocean that an early morning smell became familiar to all that spent time on the stern deck near the swimming pool. The fragrance of newly cooked bread would fill the air as the passengers stood watching the wake of the ship.
Every few days the crew would conduct lifeboat drill. All passengers were required to strap life jackets on and report to their allotted station. The constant rolling of the ship had such an effect on me that I was constantly seasick. I never actually made it to lifeboat station. Spending most of my time looking over the side and getting rid of the breakfast that had been consumed earlier that day. Trying to rid one’s body of seasickness was not a pleasant task. There had to be a better way of taking a tablet then lying on your stomach.
We were a thankful bunch of "new chums” when land appeared on the horizon, knowing that our journey to Australia was nearly over. We first set foot on Australian soil in Perth, the largest city on the continents western coast.
I remember the first thing mum and dad wanted to do was have a decent cup of tea. The Italian crews were not the best tea makers in the world. An Australian taxi driver showed us the sights of the city. The Botanical Gardens and the Zoo were most impressive. As time on shore went by, dad wanted to taste the local brew. To this day, we do not know if he was given a “pony” or a “glass”. To dad who was used to "pints” he thought the size of the container was a joke and finished the beer before he got time to make a decision as whether he liked it or not.
A habit of the Europeans is to tip the cabby’s for their services. Dad was quickly informed of the local customs, which did not include tipping. In the words of the cabby. “Don’t start that habit in this country mate!”
We left Fremantle the next day and headed around the southern coast of Western Australia until our course put us within sight of the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. Early mariners in sailing ships had a particularly hard time navigating these waters. Many emigrant ships ended their journeys, wrecked on the rocks of those towering cliffs. With our modern navigation gear, we had nothing to worry about.
It was at least two days later, just before sunrise near the end of May 1964, that we entered through the notorious “Rip” into the sheltered waters of Port Phillip Bay. It was another four hours before we berthed at Station Pier in Port Melbourne. Waiting at the dockside were friends of my parents; they had sponsored our family with promise of work for dad. When the long process of disembarking was finally completed, we crowded into their Holden and drove through Melbourne, the capital city of Victoria. A state we would see a lot more of. In fact all members of our family would visit much of this “Great South Land” called Australia in the years to come.

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